1. Deserts: a neglected ecosystem:
In April I attended an event at ZSL on deserts, where we received 4 lectures from 4 very different people. Some of the content was a bit repetitive, encouraging community engagement, and ecotourism in order to support the wildlife; things we’ve all heard before. But the aim of my blog is to highlight things that are not so well known. John Newby, from Sahara Conservation Fund, said that there is a low biodiversity in the desert, but many threatened species. Most of these species have extraordinary adaptations to the extreme climate; many being ungulates such as the scimitar-horned oryx that is now extinct in the wild, but with approximately 15-20k in captivity a reintroduction programme is hopeful.
Other interesting facts I learnt:
- The highest causes of death in desert cattle is drowning (during the flash floods), and also hunger during drought periods
- Only 20% desert is sand sea; the rest is grass and mountains.
- Some ungulates can go without water their entire lives
- Mobility is the key to survival
- Tortoises undergo ‘easterbation’ during periods of intense heat (summer hibernation)
- There is a species of Sahara cheetah, that primarily hunts at night when it is cooler
- Trans-human migration across the desert is called the trans-Saharan (caravan) trade, where camels are tied together in a line and used to cross vast distances for trade, pilgrimage or conquest
2. Kestrel Count
I was recently asked to write an article for Wild London magazine, about the number of kestrels recorded in London in 2011/12. Unfortunately, despite a great response from Londoners culminating in over 200 recordings, the picture for this fantastic species isn’t looking too great. Numbers have been dropping rapidly year after year since the first severe decline in the 70’s, as a result of fatal pesticide use. Despite improvements in agricultural practices and increased conservation, this species is still vulnerable and it is evident that this species must remain on the Amber List of Birds of Conservation Concern.
3. Peppered Moth & Industrial Melanism
Natural selection has caused a species of moth to develop melanine polymorphism. Melanin is the colour pigment in a species, and can vary from one individual to the next. Due to environmental changes, like increased pollution, being darker can be more advantageous when it comes to camouflage, as opposed to the paler version of the peppered moth.
A lecture at the Linnaean Society told us about industrial changes in Manchester since the 1900’s and how this promoted the success of either the dark (carbonaria) or pale (ursulana) version of this species. With improved environmental considerations in the 1970’s, pollution has significantly reduced and the paler version begins to be more prevalent. However, it is possible that the colour isn’t primarily for camouflage, but that it has other non-visual purposes, such as thermoregulation, sexual selection or immunity benefits.
4. Lost rivers of London
One of the projects I have been heavily involved in at London Wildlife Trust is the Lost Effra Project. A project based around water management in the Herne Hill area, a flash flood risk area as a result of sewers being at capacity. Having supported the project coordinator I have learnt some really interesting facts about London, in particular that it is built on a whole network of lost rivers; the majority of which are all underground, incorporated into our vast sewer system.
Historians and heritage conservationists have actively sought the route of these rivers and mapped their general layout. But what was even more fascinating to know is that some people out there actually do this by spending whole days under ground in our sewers walking around London. Check out this fascinating blog for some interesting reading about what really lies beneath.
5. Peregrine chicks at Charing Cross hospital
So for the last few months I have been pretty engrossed with the development of 3 peregrine chicks hatched on Charing Cross Hospital’s roof. Now when I say chicks, it’s a bit too late to say they are cute and adorable, because now they are the size of chickens and aren’t too pretty at all. However, watching their journey from egg to bird has been fascinating. The parents have been doting and very successful at providing them with the best quality feral pigeons and rats you could dream of! So much so that it took 16 days before mum decided that the fourth egg, which had failed to hatch, would make a nutritious meal. Another common prey was the invasive green parakeet, which made a very decorative addition to the nest box and ledge. See below for some fantastic images from eggs to chicks, to handsome birds.
Check out this fantastic species here: